Henry James: the Middle Years

Edel, Leon. Henry James: the middle Years, 1882 – 1895 (Vol. 3). Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1962.

Reason read: believe it or not I started this series in April, in honor of Henry James’s birth month (4/15/1843). I should have finished The Middle Years in JUNE (yes, June). Technically, if I had kept to the schedule I should be finished with the entire series by now…but as it stands, I am STILL reading.

Henry James is approaching middle age. As Edel describes, “…when James is in his forties, the center of his life” (p 18). When we last left off, James had gone back to Europe and preferred a residency there, bouncing between Rome, Paris and London. He no longer considers Massachusetts home. As James builds his literary reputation so grows his social relationships as well. As a self proclaimed “eternal” bachelor, James cultivates long standing close relationships, mostly with married women. Most notably during this time is his friendship with great-niece of James Fenimore Cooper, Constance. We would know much more about James’s social life if he had only stopped burning his letters and asking his relationships to do the same!
It is at this time James starts toying with the idea of becoming involved in the theater. He is asked to dramatize The American and realizes working with actors was a whole different game.

As an aside, reading about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Virginia Woolf at the same time as plodding through James was interesting. The other biographies gave me a different perspective on James and his work.

Author fact: Edel won a National Book Award and Pulitzer for his work on Henry James.

Book trivia: My favorite picture is titled “Henry James at Cornwall” and shows James lounging on a step while Mrs. Leslie Stephen and her son Adrian look on. In the background, with his back to the camera, is an unnamed man presumably reading a book. Another piece of trivia: The Middle Years is also a short story by James. Well played, Mr. Edel.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans” (p 144).

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